RELEASE: PARCC and Smarter Balanced Assessments Are a Major Step Forward in Accessibility for Students with Disabilities, English Language Learners, New CAP Report Finds

Washington, D.C. — New assessments aligned to college- and career-ready standards represent a major step forward in accessibility and accommodation features for students with disabilities and English language learner, or ELL, students, a new report from the Center for American Progress finds. The new generation of assessments, designed by two consortia of states—the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, or Smarter Balanced—include items and tasks designed with all students in mind and built-in features and innovative approaches to accessibility resources that are tailored to students’ needs, according to CAP’s report.

“Over the past few decades, education law and practice involving students with disabilities and ELL students has changed dramatically. To ensure that no student falls through the cracks or is left behind to languish in the classroom, states and schools must show how all students are meeting high standards and are ready for college and a career,” said Samantha Batel, Policy Analyst at CAP. “At the same time, schools must ensure that the necessary accommodations and accessibility features are made available to students with disabilities and ELL students. A closer look at the new assessments developed by PARCC and Smarter Balanced show the breadth of thoughtful universal design features that have been incorporated to make test taking more dynamic and user-friendly for all students.”

CAP’s report illustrates how new, next-generation assessments developed by PARCC and Smarter Balanced not only move beyond old fill-in-the-bubble tests to measure critical thinking skills, but are also designed to better accommodate the needs of students with disabilities and English language learners. The computer-based systems offer advancements in universal design principles as applied to assessments that provide access for a wider range of student needs, reducing the number of students required to take exams in separate small-group or one-on-one settings. For example, students taking Smarter Balanced exams may access an item-specific, grade-appropriate glossary, while PARCC similarly provides a pop-up glossary for preselected words. All test takers have access to tools such as a digital notepad, calculator, and highlighter, and additional features such as bookmarking and zoom tools allow students to mark items for later review and zoom in or zoom out on text and graphics.

CAP’s report notes that PARCC and Smarter Balanced worked to embed accessibility features into the testing platforms that are available to all students, in addition to features that increase accessibility for English language learners. Smarter Balanced provides item-specific, grade-level translated text and audio glossaries in more than 11 languages plus dialects for mathematics exams and also offers stacked Spanish-English mathematics assessments, which provide the full translation of each test item above the original item in English, along with nonembedded translated test directions in 19 languages. PARCC and Smarter Balanced provide further accommodations for students with Individualized Education Programs, or IEPs, or Section 504 plans by providing test content translated into American Sign Language videos, computer- and paper-based Braille options, and closed captioning, among other supports.

While PARCC and Smarter Balanced’s steps represent major progress in increasing accessibility for students with disabilities, CAP’s report notes that further progress is needed to increase accessibility and interoperability, ensure proper implementation, improve technology, and ensure access to accommodations. Meeting these goals will require states to continue to implement PARCC and Smarter Balanced exams and assessment items so that all students have access to high-quality assessments; more guidance and information from states and districts to schools, families, and other stakeholders on test accessibility and accommodations; and continued progress on next-generation assessments to meet the needs of all students.

Click here to read “Better Tests, Fewer Barriers” by Samantha Batel and Scott Sargrad.

For more information or to speak with an expert, contact Allison Preiss at or 202.478.6331.

###